U.S. does not have infinite patience on renewal of Venezuela talks - official

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FILE PHOTO - Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) Secretary-General Haitham al-Ghais meet, in Caracas

By Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. State Department official put pressure on Venezuela leader Nicolas Maduro in a congressional hearing on Thursday, threatening more sanctions if talks with the opposition on resolving the country's long-running political and economic crisis are not renewed.

The talks between Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido were last held in Mexico City last year, but yielded little.

The Biden administration recognizes Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate president, having rejected Maduro's 2018 re-election as a sham. Maduro, a socialist, remains in power in the OPEC nation despite tough U.S. sanctions on it oil industry.

"Nicolas Maduro ... is making a critical mistake if he thinks that our patience is infinite, and that dilatory tactics will serve him well," said Brian Nichols, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

"We stand ready to snap back sanctions and ready to take comprehensive measures," if talks are not renewed and make progress, Nichols told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat and the committee's chairman, said Venezuela is sinking deeper into crisis, with rampant drug trafficking and corruption, as a renewal of the talks lingers.

"As far as I can discern, Maduro has not made any meaningful concessions or concrete steps to return to negotiations in Mexico City," he said.

"In the interim, he has turned the nation into a narco state, building up its national patrimony and nothing is happening," Menendez added.

Meanwhile, U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan oil are like a "sieve" with countries such as Turkey, Russia and China are getting around them "with impunity."

Nichols said the administration would use sanctions and law enforcement and work with partners around the world to ensure the regime does not secure access to assets that are currently frozen under U.S. sanctions.

Nichols, who traveled to Mexico this week, said he and other U.S. diplomats and "key allies" had a meeting on Venezuela on Wednesday and that the United States is also in close contact with Maduro and the opposition government.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Marguerita Choy)